A few years ago I was driving around exploring and found the trailhead for the Pioneer Ridge-Austin Helmers Trail near Palmer, off the Knik River Road. A flyer said it was a 5000 foot climb, which immediately piqued my interest, along with the part that said, "experienced climbers with gear only for the final ascent." Sounded good and knarly to me, and I've wanted to go back ever since. A weekend of sports in Palmer (state track and baseball regionals) meant I was in the area, and my daughter was fresh back from Colorado and itching for some uber hikes. The weather for the day we were shoot for said partly cloudy and 50's, which is about as perfect as it's going to get.
View of the Knik River from a few thousand feet up the Pioneer Ridge Trail
In my mind, over the years, the trail has gained mythic porportions--there aren't a lot of trails that are 5000 foot climbs! But really, it was just another typical Alaskan mountain trail. It was a nice single track, with sections that were muddy. A couple of picnic tables marked distinctive alpine meadows with amazing views of the Knik River and Knik Glacier. I made it to about the snow line, which I'm guessing was about 2500 or 3000 feet, judging by the other mountains across the valley. The grade of the trail was a steady uphill from the very first step, so that was two hours of solid climbing! But it didn't seem too steep and it was never a scramble, and the trail was fairly smooth, making for sure footing. It only took an hour to get back down to the two up, making for a good three hour mountain workout.
We were entertained by the simplicity, and unhelpfulness, of the trail map
A few walkway systems helped avoid muddy sections of trail
Before I did this climb I didn't even realize there was a Knik Glacier
Most sections of trail were hard-packed dirt. Trees were quite leafed out at the bottom but not further up.
I would go back to this trail again if I was in the area, not necessarily with the expectation of making it all the way up. Aurora went an hour further than I did, and got two ridges further up than me to the serious snow that involved post-holing, which isn't fun. From her spot the knife edge of a ridge and the peak were visible, and it was clear why climbing equipment was necessary!
It is the beginning of summer and my travels and adventuring are revving up. I was in Anchorage for a week and got in six 2-4 hour hikes in seven days. Some I've done before and some I didn't take pictures of so you won't see a blog post for all of them. But I have a few new ones worth sharing.
While leaves have popped out at the trailhead, up the trail no green is showing yet
One of my greatest discoveries is that there are 4 trailheads all accessing the same Chugach National Forest trails on the Hillside area of Anchorage: Glen Alps/Flattop (the most popular, judging by the extensive, paved parking lot), Huffman, O'Malley and Prospect Heights. I'd only been to the Flattop trailhead before and now feel deprived of years of not knowing about lots of other great trails! The Flattop area starts nearly at or above treeline, so when it is windy, there is no protection. The other areas are more treed and offer protection on blustery days.
What would we do without the wonderful bridges that allow us access to the backcountry?!
I started the Wolverine Peak trail from the Prospect Heights trailhead, taking a left at the Powerline Trail and following it up on a gradual climb on a wide, hard packed trail. It was pleasant walking, till I came to the intersection with Near Point (straight) or Wolverine Peak (a right). I opted to try the peak trail and it began a steeper ascent, resulting in frequent short breaks as I caught my breath on my first climbing hike of the season.
A view of Anchorage (a clear day would also show us Denali in the distance) from the trail up Wolverine Peak
Only one section of snow remained, 50 feet or so, on my climb to the saddle, at which point I decided that for my fresh-to-hiking legs, that would be enough climbing for the day. I can see how it would be a pleasant hike, really not too difficult, once I'm back in hiking shape for the season.
When climbing, I thought Wolverine Peak was to the left after climbing this slope, but when I was driving the Seward Highway later and looking up, I saw that it was to the right up this section, a peak that's about 4200 feet
As I was thinking it was about time to go to sleep while on my annual retreat at the Holy Spirit Center last week, I glanced out the window and saw a cat walking by. Hm. Then I was like, "Whoa, that cat is big!" As it continued to walk I thought, "That's no housecat! Look at those paws! And tufted ears! That's a lynx!" It complied by walking slowly, obviously hunting, and allowed me to get a picture and then a video.
A lynx walked by my room
As the lynx walked around the corner of the building, I dashed to the next room, the library, and as I peered down, the lynx paused and then pounced, walking away with something gray hanging from its mouth. I'd seen a rabbit hopping about the lawn earlier that day so suspect it was rabbit that it nabbed, as it was larger than a mouse.
After that, no amount of peering out of windows got me another view of the lynx. Of course, for the remaining days there, I spent more time than usual looking out the window in hopes of seeing another view of a lynx or other wildlife!